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Some undergrads admit to cheating in online exams during pandemic, despite safeguards and stiff penalties

SINGAPORE — University students who cheat at examinations during the Covid-19 pandemic may be happening more often than not, going by interviews conducted by TODAY with more than a dozen current and graduated students in the past week.

Some undergrads admit to cheating in online exams during pandemic, despite safeguards and stiff penalties
Some undergraduates said that without webcam invigilation or any examination software in place, students were not hindered from cheating during examinations held online.
  • With many exams held online, some students found loopholes and gaps to game the system
  • These allowed them to bypass special examination software that locked their computer from being able to access the internet 
  • Seven out of 13 current and recently graduated students TODAY interviewed said they have cheated or helped others cheat
  • One student who was “adamant” that cheating was wrong said he relented because he was “afraid of falling behind”
  • Another said she did so only because she had no interest in the course she was made to take 

SINGAPORE — University students who cheat at examinations during the Covid-19 pandemic may be happening more often than not, going by interviews conducted by TODAY with more than a dozen current and graduated students in the past week.

As Covid-19 forced many exams to be conducted remotely online for significant parts of the pandemic, some students said that they found ways around the universities' efforts to deter such dishonesty.

There were those, for example, who said that they cheated because they did not want to be put at a disadvantage to others who did.

The question arose of how common academic cheating is, after news last week that 11 law trainees had been caught cheating in their Bar exams, prompting a High Court judge to question whether there is a "culture of cheating". Six of the trainees were named by the High Court on Wednesday (April 27).

The students interviewed by TODAY said that cheating was easier at the start of the pandemic when universities had to find ways to set up the remote exams at short notice, which sometimes meant a lack of precautions taken against cheating.

In the two years since, many exams have continued to be held online and universities have put up extra safeguards such as requiring students to turn on their web cameras and use special examination software that locked their computer from being able to access the internet.

However, some students said that they still found loopholes and gaps. Out of 13 current and recently graduated students TODAY interviewed, seven said that they have cheated or helped someone do so over the past two years.

Most of the students who cheated were not apologetic for their actions, saying that everyone else they knew was doing so and not cheating would put them at a disadvantage.

All of the students and recent graduates spoke to TODAY on the condition of anonymity.

'FEW CHECKS AND BARRIERS TO DETER CHEATING'

University students who sat for examinations online, during the early days of Singapore’s partial lockdown in 2020, said that there were few checks and barriers in place to deter cheating.

A 24-year-old graduate of one university here said that she cheated for a compulsory science module in which she had no interest. The examination was held virtually during the partial lockdown.

“Basically, they were short-answer questions. Then, I just googled all the answers because they were all very basic questions, such as definitions and functions,” she added.

Basically, they were short answer questions. Then, I just googled all the answers because they were all very basic questions, such as definitions and functions.
A female local univesrity student, 24, who requested anonymity

Without webcam invigilation or any examination software in place, students were not hindered from cheating.

A third-year student from another Singapore university said that when the country went into partial lockdown, she was forced to take her examinations online.

“In the first year (of the pandemic), as the school was not prepared for the pandemic situation, we were given 24 hours to submit our papers and it was an open-book assessment,” she said.

Then, when her examination duration was reduced from 24 hours to just six hours last year, she decided to collaborate with others sitting the same exam, despite fears of getting caught.

“Most students I knew were discussing and doing the examinations online together, through videocam applications like FaceTime, Skype or Houseparty. Some students also engaged online solutions services like Chegg to ask an expert for (the answers to) their examination questions,” she said.

She added that she did not feel guilty because “most of my peers were doing the same and even went to the extent of asking around for answers to questions they did not know how to do”.

Students who spoke to TODAY said that they cheated because they are graded on a bell curve and would be graded against those who cheated, placing them in a disadvantaged position.

CHEATING STUDENTS DID NOT WANT TO LOSE OUT

A student from another Singapore university said that he worked together with others because he was “afraid of falling behind”, even though he is “adamantly opposed to cheating” and had “no desire to do so”.

“Because many students used this opportunity to discuss among themselves, it resulted in a significant increase in the bell curve. There is — without a doubt — guilt and a sense that it was an unfair disadvantage for those who did not cheat,” he admitted.

However, others took issue with such cheating ways and believed that these actions infringed on their principles. 

A final-year finance student from one university here told TODAY that even though he helped a friend to cheat for an online assessment, he has never cheated on an examination himself.

When asked why he did not cheat for any of his examinations, his response was: “Because it is wrong.” 

He added: “I think it is wrong because cheating places students who have studied hard at a disadvantage. However, I do not think that most students are sufficiently troubled by the act of cheating because they assume others may be doing so or that the consequences may not be severe enough…

"We should always strive to be honest in all that we do.”

Others who did not cheat during their examinations said that cheating would defeat the purpose of examinations.

A final-year student from another university said: “I believe that the purpose of examinations is to test what you really know and learn from the course, so if I have to cheat in order to pass the exam, then it defeats the purpose of learning.”

‘NO INCREASE IN CHEATING CASES’

TODAY reached out to the six autonomous universities here and private education institution SIM Global Education for comments. Not all had responded by the time of publication.

The Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) said that cheating was "rare" and that it has not seen a rise in cases "despite changing the format of in-person examinations to timed online assignments".

SUSS students caught cheating would be expelled, it added.

The Singapore Management University said that cases of cheating are "very rare" and exam rules are clearly communicated to the students.

Anyone found to be cheating is liable to penalties and disciplinary action, including failing the exam and suspension or expulsion, depending on the circumstances.

In a statement, the National University of Singapore did not say whether more students had been caught cheating than before. The university said that it took a "serious view of cheating" and would take disciplinary action against anyone involved in such misconduct.

The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) said that only a small number of exams were held online during the pandemic. For those that were, "additional controls were introduced to deter cheating" such as real-time monitoring via a second device.

"The university’s robust measures have resulted in no notable increase in exam cheating cases," it added, without elaborating on the typical number of cheating cases.

Any form of academic dishonesty, including cheating during exams, is considered a "serious matter" and a violation of the student code of conduct, for which the student may be failed from the course, suspended or expelled, NTU said.

The four universities above said that they have put in place a range of measures to deter cheating during examinations.

These included having students use an examination software or browser that locks their devices from accessing other websites or resources, as well as requiring them to submit their work through a software that detects plagiarism.

Some exams also require students to keep their webcams on while logged into a video throughout the exam period and invigilators would be present to supervise them remotely.

Related topics

cheating online undergraduate University Covid-19

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